Beating post-publication blues

One of the sections in my little ebook Wellbeing for Writers draws some fanciful parallels between writing a book and having a baby. There may be feelings of depression following publication (“birth”), and a time interval before being able to conceive another book (“child”).

Some writers manage to avoid such problems by keeping two or more books in different stages of completion on the go at any one time. I have never managed this myself, preferring to focus all my energies on a single project. I felt quite euphoric after my latest novel You Yet Shall Die had been published and received positive reviews. But my mood slumped after the initial peak of sales had subsided, because I did not have another novel in mind.

However, knowing that the best remedy for post-publication blues is to keep writing, I asked my husband Brian if I could edit some of his autobiographical essays and collate them into a memoir. So that is what I am working on now. Brian grew up during the 1930s in what was then a downmarket seaside settlement on Auckland’s North Shore. His ambition to become a doctor was inspired by an inpatient stay in a tuberculosis unit when he was 18. He graduated from the University of Otago, and having decided to specialise in mental disorders, obtained a training post at the Maudsley Hospital in London. During his three years there he worked for some of the most eminent psychiatrists of the day, and had experiences ranging from daily psychoanalysis to taking LSD. After leaving the Maudsley, Brian joined the Medical Research Council’s unit in Chichester, to study the clinical and epidemiological aspects of suicide.

Another remedy for the post-publication blues is to take a break from writing and do something completely different. Outdoor activities here in Auckland are a pleasure now that spring has arrived; the flowers are in bloom, and it is (just) warm enough to swim.

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Good Books July-September 2019

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Here’s the latest roundup of books I’ve enjoyed reading lately, mostly crime and mystery novels and a few general titles. They are listed in alphabetical order.

A Keeper by Graham Norton: A gentle and somewhat old-fashioned mystery involving family secrets. Following her mother’s death, a woman returns to her childhood home in rural Ireland and explores her father’s identity. Graham Norton’s writing reveals a more thoughtful and sensitive aspect to his personality than is apparent from his TV show.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper: Five work colleagues,  all women, embark somewhat reluctantly on a “team-building” exercise in the Australian bush. They get lost, run out of food and water, and quarrel among themselves before one of them goes missing. The hostile environment is vividly described, making me feel very thankful not to be there.

Middle England by Jonathan Coe:  Classified on Amazon as “political fiction”, this long novel follows a group of middle-class characters over the years before and after the Brexit referendum. I chose it because I still follow the UK news since moving to New Zealand 20 years ago. Society has changed in many ways since I left, and Coe paints a witty if somewhat depressing picture of the current tensions, for example around the topic of immigration.

Mind to Matter by Dawson Church: Since attending a series of courses at the College of Healing in England, many years ago now, I have been trying to reconcile its teachings with my training in orthodox medicine. This book summarises numerous research studies that support the idea that energy creates matter and that “thoughts become things”. There is a lot of technical detail but not much about its clinical relevance, for example how the human energy field may relate to the auras and chakras or how the memory of water may relate to homeopathy, and the only therapies described are EFT (tapping) and meditation. The final message is the simple one of think positive.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty: I was attracted to this one because the action takes place in an upmarket wellness retreat in Australia, not too dissimilar to the one where Brian and I stayed last year. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the first part, with character development set against tongue-in-cheek descriptions of the regime, but found the later chapters protracted.

Passionate Spirit: The Life of Alma Mahler by Cate Haste: Growing up in Vienna at the turn of the century, Alma Schindler/Mahler/Gropius/Werfel possessed outstanding musical talent, physical beauty and sexual allure. The conventions of the time prevented a woman from pursuing a professional career as a composer, and Alma’s first husband Gustav Mahler forbade her to express her musicality until towards the end of his life. Deeply frustrated by this sacrifice, she channeled her energies into a frenetic series of marriages and affairs with creative men.

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman: A young London couple on honeymoon in a luxury tropical resort make a gruesome discovery. Thwarted in their cursory attempt to hand the matter over to the proper authorities, they decide to use it for their own financial gain and are soon drawn into a web of intrigue involving the criminal underworld and the undermining of their relationship. Despite some loose ends in the plot and an improbable ending, this is a gripping psychological thriller.

The End of the Line by Gillian Galbraith: During the 1980s, a number of patients with haemophilia were accidentally infected with the HIV virus through contaminated blood products. This intelligent medico-legal thriller is set many years later, when a retired Scottish haematologist is called to give evidence in a court case related to the scandal, and then dies in suspicious circumstances. The elderly bookseller dealing with his estate sets out to investigate. There are some rather gruelling descriptions of the decrepitude of old age.

The Holiday by TM Logan: Four 40-ish women friends, along with their husbands and children, spend a summer holiday in a villa in France. The surroundings are luxurious but, with suspicions of infidelity between the adults and disturbed behaviour among the teenagers, the atmosphere soon becomes strained. The escalating tensions culminate in the death of one member of the group.

What we Owe by Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde: An Iranian woman with a revolutionary past becomes a refugee in Sweden, is widowed, and then diagnosed with terminal cancer. The subject-matter of this short novel makes it sound like heavy going, but the dry humour and lack of sentimentality make it a worthwhile read.

And at the end of the alphabet my own book You Yet Shall Die, a story of family secrets and concealed crime set in southern England in the recent past, has a couple of good reviews on Amazon’s UK site.

Domestic Noir in Sussex and Kent

Most fiction is autobiographical to some extent. Both the theme and the setting of my new novel You Yet Shall Die reflect my personal experience.

Two years ago, I found out that I had a half-brother and a half-sister I knew nothing about, and this planted the seed of the story. The novel begins with the protagonist Hilda receiving a visit from a woman who claims to be her late father’s child. From then on, however, the plot of the novel bears no resemblance to my own life. Whereas the contact with my new-found relatives has proved entirely positive, this is not the case for Hilda and her brother Dunstan. Dunstan, already stressed by problems at home and at work, suffers a physical and mental breakdown and his actions almost lead to tragedy. Hilda is compelled to explore the mysteries in their family background, and some shocking secrets from their parents’ past are revealed. The content is not so dark as this summary suggests because there are touches of humour, references to cats, and a reasonably happy ending.

My early childhood was spent in Gravesend, Kent, and sometimes at weekends my grandfather would take me for walks on the nearby marshes. Why I should feel inspired to set the main part of my novel there I have no idea, and it was a rather inconvenient choice because I had not been back there for so long, and visiting from my present home in New Zealand was quite an undertaking. I was in fact able to spend two days in the area in May, walking in the rain across the desolate landscape which did not seem to have changed much over the years. Carol Davidson’s book On the Marshes, and her online videos, were a great help. The East Sussex coast, another old haunt, features in one chapter. Another is set in a 1960s London cabaret club – not part of my personal experience, so the biographical material from In Disgrace With Fortune by Jean Hendy-Harris was a useful resource.

In a previous post I discussed the pitfalls of writing about the recent past, for example it is easy to forget that not so long ago most people did not have access to the internet or carry mobile phones. The timeline of You Yet Shall Die shifts between 1953 and 2005 and I chose these dates to be historically accurate, fitting in with the availability of certain drugs and medical procedures mentioned in the book. I have set the scene by occasional reference to contemporary novels, music and events. 

As discussed in another previous post, classifying crime fiction isn’t an exact science. I describe You Yet Shall Die as “domestic noir” because the plot involves crime, both past and present, rooted in family secrets and tensions. But unlike some books in this sub-genre, it is not exclusively told from the feminist viewpoint, and nor is it too “noir”.

You Yet Shall Die is available from online retailers including Amazon.com (Kindle and paperback), Amazon.co.uk (Kindle), Amazon.co.uk (paperback), and from Smashwords.com in various ebook formats.

I loved it! I really liked the characters and the sense of buried secrets gradually coming to light. And the twists were excellent, very clever! Sarah S, NZ

A well-constructed novel of would-be, actual and closet murderers joined together by blood … this story would be listed as cozy crime in the publisher’s genre list even though the book is anything but cosy … a revelatory read. Julian T, UK

SMASHWORDS COVER

Kent

Dogsharing

From today’s Telegraph newspaper:

Dog owners have lower blood pressure, are less likely to be obese and are on average 2.2lbs lighter than people without canine companions, scientists have discovered. 

A study by the Mayo Clinic and Italian researchers showed that people with dogs are far healthier than those with either no pets, or those who own a different animal.

Dog owners also earned more, exercised more, were more likely to be women and were less likely to have diabetes.

Overall, all pet owners had a better lifestyle than those who did not own an animal, but those with dogs were found to be the healthiest. 

I don’t have a dog of my own, but for over a year now I have enjoyed a part-time relationship with a young black Labrador dog called Ireland. He was registered with The Dogshare Collective  when one of his human family suffered an injury and was temporarily unable to walk him. I started taking him out in the afternoons, and have continued doing so although his owner’s injury is now recovered.

Ireland was bred to become a guide dog for the blind, but due to a minor defect in his own vision he was withdrawn from training and made available for adoption as a family pet. Large, friendly and exuberant, he loves playing with other dogs and like most Labradors he has an insatiable appetite. We go to the local beach, and once a week to the “playdate” in the park, where he spends an hour rushing round with all his friends of guide dog stock.

There are many people who, for various reasons, cannot have a dog of their own but would like to help to look after someone else’s. And there are many dogs who, often because their owners are out at work all day, could benefit from some additional exercise and company. Organisations such as The Dogshare Collective offer the valuable service of putting these two groups in contact with one another.

    Ireland labyrinth edited

There are no dogs in my latest novel You Yet Shall Die, but the story does feature some cats. Please have a look on Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk or Smashwords.com.

Writing companions

Writing is a solitary occupation and the writer’s life can be lonely. Festivals, courses, talks and local groups provide valuable opportunities for professional development and social contact, but attendance can cost a lot of time and money and distract from the writing itself. For myself, one of the most productive, economical and enjoyable forms of support has come from a long-term partnership with one other person.

My first meeting with Jean was serendipitous. After being introduced at a lunch party in Auckland given by mutual friends, we discovered that we had both been brought up in Gravesend, a small town in north Kent, and had left England because of being married to New Zealand men. We arranged to meet for coffee a few weeks later and then found that we were both already published authors, Jean in the field of education and me in that of medicine, and both working on new books. This turned out to be the first of 100-odd coffee dates that have taken place almost every month for the past ten years.

Over this time we have developed a close friendship, discussed many topics ranging from animals to the afterlife, and supported each other through the trials of family illnesses and bereavements. But the main focus of our meetings has always been writing, and we have exchanged a great deal of factual information as well as encouragement and support. When we first met, we were exploring what was then the relatively new option of self-publishing. We have since both gone on to self-publish several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Most of Jean’s are set in north Kent, and my next one will be too.

We have read each other’s draft manuscripts and offered constructive criticism; shared information about the technicalities of using the various publishing platforms; exchanged recommendations for editors and cover designers; and tackled the challenges of marketing.

I have been very lucky to have found such a faithful and compatible “writing companion”. Maybe, if it does not exist already, there is a place for the equivalent of a dating website to pair other writers up?

Here are the links to Jean’s author pages on amazon.com  amazon.co.uk and smashwords.com. The corresponding links to mine are amazon.com  amazon.co.uk and smashwords.com.

A writing retreat

Writers who work from home, especially if they live with a family or flatmates, often find it hard to focus due to a continual stream of demands and distractions. As advised in my short e-book Wellbeing for Writers, interruptions can be minimised by strict time management, setting of boundaries, and self discipline. I know this in theory but still often find myself breaking off to unload the washing machine or dishwasher, check on the cooking, feed a hungry cat or remove it from the computer, or make another cup of coffee. Although standing up and walking about at frequent intervals is better for the health than sitting down for long periods, it does interfere with concentration.

It can be easiest to complete a writing project in a new environment, and thanks to the generosity of a kind friend I recently spent two days in her holiday house on Waiheke Island, revising the draft of my latest novel. All my regular engagements for those days – choir practice, Zumba class, and walking my dogshare Labrador – had been cancelled. Maybe the universe arranged all these synchronicities to support my desire for an undisturbed retreat. But if so, it went too far by causing my precious iPhone to fail beyond repair on the first day. The enforced digital detox threw me into a panic, and I remembered the maxim “Be careful what you wish for”.

Waiheke, with its sandy beaches and vineyards, is just a 40-minute boat ride from downtown Auckland but seems like a world apart. In the summer there are hordes of visitors but now in the middle of the New Zealand winter it is almost deserted, with few sounds except the chirping of birds and the waves breaking on the shore. Here is the view from the deck of my friend’s house.

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It felt strange at first, being on my own in this peaceful place, unable to communicate with the outside world, and having nothing to do except check through the final draft of my novel for errors and inconsistencies. Working on a printed manuscript with a red pencil, after years of only using a computer, also felt unfamiliar. But I soon came to appreciate the quiet solitude, adapted to the absence of my iPhone, and worked both days on my book with just short breaks for lunches at the beachside cafe and walks on the sand. It was the perfect setting for a writing retreat.

It is easy to miss your own typos, so for the the next step I will take another piece of my own advice from Wellbeing for Writers and obtain an independent check from a copy-editor before publishing the novel.

Wellbeing for Writers: Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Smashwords

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